Hindsight is twenty-twenty and hypocrites throughout history are abundant. According to Merriam-Webster, a hypocrite is a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs. A hypocrite is simply a liar. That may sound harsh since hypocrisy is oftentimes unintentional, but walking the talk is hard. We sometimes lie to ourselves as a way to rationalize decisions or defend behaviors. Isn’t it interesting how quickly we recognize hypocrisy in others, but fail to uncover it in ourselves?
For some reason this whole concept of hypocrisy is really up for me this week. Maybe it’s because Revelation 20 is one of the most controversial books in the Bible and translations are all over the place. Some are literal and others symbolic. Scholars generally support their translations with scriptural, historical, and cultural resources, but how often do they recognize the influence of personal experience, emotion, and bias?
The last lesson wrapped up with the beast (Antichrist) and the false prophet (Antichrist’s false prophet) being thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur by the rider (Christ) on a white horse. This week, the assault on the triumvirate of evil (unholy trinity) continued; the dragon (Satan) was bound by an angel and held in the Abyss for a thousand years.
John then saw something he called the first resurrection where souls came to life and reigned with Christ during the dragon’s containment. When the sentence was over (thousand year), the dragon was set free and allowed to deceive nations for a short time. In the end, like his partners in crime the beast and the false prophet, the dragon endured an eternity of torment in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:6
Who’s Satan? Who’s the Antichrist? Who’s the Antichrist’s false prophet? Where’s the fiery lake of burning sulfur? Where’s the Abyss? Are the one thousand years meant to be symbolic or literal? When will they occur? What’s a short time? Who are the souls that come to life and reign with Christ? What’s the first resurrection? What’s the second death? Like one of those machines that pitch balls in a batting cage, after reading the first ten verses of chapter 20, questions shot through my head in rapid fire.
It’s important to take into consideration historical and political perspective. The writer of Revelation was a Christian elder who had witnessed and experienced extreme suffering. Ongoing violence against Christians throughout the Roman Empire was brutal and included unmerciful torture and murder. The Christian belief system gave people hope. The opening chapters of Revelation are specific messages to each of seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.
Roman citizens were required to worship the Roman Emperor (the beast) and although Jews enjoyed a protected status, Christians did not. Punishment for noncompliance was death. This is evidence to me that all evil imagery in Revelation is meant to specifically represent Rome, her leaders, and the lifestyle of citizens. Apocalyptic writing (code using imagery) was used to protect the Christians who preached Revelation from prosecution.
As an Apostle, John (author of Revelation) was commissioned to spread the good news. Politically, Christians were at the bottom of the food chain; they believed Rome, her leaders, and her citizens were evil personified. I imagine Revelation gave the oppressed comfort, encouragement and inspiration. A synopsis of Revelation is fairly straight forward and simple; believers (Christians) will be victorious over Rome.
My posts often comment chapter by chapter on the many possible layers of meaning in Revelation. Deeper symbolism is not straight forward; John’s vision manifested in a way readily recognizable to him so that he could articulate what he saw. For me, the surface layer is all about Rome. Perhaps we’ll fully grasp the depth of Revelation only after passing from this earth to dwell on the other side of the veil.
Revelation 20:1-10 is riddled in mystery. Among the droves of questions, there are two doozies. What is the binding of Satan all about and when is the millennial (1000 years)? There are three common viewpoints that attempt to answer these questions: Amillennialism; Postmillennialism; and Premillennialism. I’ll spare you all the theology and just say, “Who knows?” If you’re actually interested in these interpretations, I have included links for personal perusal.
The notes say that the earliest Christians held a Premillennial view prior to the fourth century. I found this little footnote extremely interesting. It was in the fourth century that the Roman Emperor Constantine 1 orchestrated the First Council of Nicaea to develop a uniform Christine doctrine. A Roman emperor (allegedly not baptized) was driving Christian doctrine. I wonder what John would have thought about that? Rome now influenced the criteria used to separate authentic from heretical Christian teachings. Does anyone else find this ironic?
The standard answer churchgoing folk give when asked about this is, “Everything is divinely guided when it comes to doctrine and Bible content.” Here is where I get confused.
Christians believe in a sinful human nature. Doesn’t it then follow that a spiritual practice developed by men (no women to my knowledge) who consolidated and documented four centuries worth of information could potentially morph meaning into something less than perfect? Doesn’t it follow that when picking and choosing New Testament material, a Bishop could potentially be influenced with a promise of political gain? The Bible is a valuable resource in the development of one’s spiritual maturity, but I would be remiss if I did not mention I struggle with these questions.
On the subject of politics, false prophets appear to be sitting among the North Carolina General Assembly. For a state that is supposedly so steeped in Biblical teachings, it is remarkable how non-Christian the politics are here. Help me understand how Jesus’ teachings to judge not and love thy neighbor were demonstrated when the state passed a law banning anti-discrimination protections for LGBT citizens? I’m afraid it was a slick move to satisfy LGBT intolerance; there are many here who believe an LGBT lifestyle is evidence of a fallen world. Spare me the hypocrisy. Who are we to judge?
I was encouraged by the backlash. For example, PayPal canceled plans for an expansion in Charlotte and Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro. In an attempt to stop the mounting loss of jobs and revenue, the governor signed some kind of executive order for damage control, too little too late.
Will politicians ever stop using religious beliefs based on debatable Bible translations to justify agendas and rationalize prejudice? History really does repeat itself. Let’s learn from our mistakes and get off the hampster wheel.